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Constructive Collaboration in Creation Care: A New Contribution to Amphibian Conservation

Jun 16, 2017

As a group, they are among the most difficult to study, living life in two different worlds of land and water. They are among the most colorful, beautiful, and vocal, but also among the most sensitive to environmental changes in climate, landscape structure, and habitat fragmentation. And with all their diversity, beauty, and sensitivity, they are often the most overlooked. “They” are amphibians, and their worldwide decline is now a global concern in conservation biology. Staff, faculty, and consulting scientists at the Au Sable Institute recently published a collaborative research effort on amphibian conservation, Amphibians in Forest Pools: Does Habitat Clustering Affect Community Diversity and Dynamics? (

Appearing in the prestigious publication Ecosphere, the only completely online and fully open access journal publication of the Ecological Society of America, Au Sable Executive Director Fred Van Dyke, Au Sable Professor of Environmental Law Rachel Lamb, Seth Harju, President of Heron Ecological and a regular consulting scientist in the Au Sable Research Program, and five other authors explored the effects of habitat clustering (similar kinds of habitat in close proximity to one another) in forest pools on the level of species richness in amphibian communities using forest environments, with Au Sable’s Scientific Technician, Lindsay Barden, providing assistance with graphics and figures included in the publication. Van Dyke, Lamb, Harju, and their colleagues determined that, when forest pools occurred in clusters, species richness of the amphibian community in the cluster increased compared to pools of approximately the same size that occurred in isolation (alone) from other similar pools.

Van Dyke, the paper’s senior author, noted the importance of the paper to science in general, to amphibian conservation in particular, and to the ongoing work of the Au Sable Institute in its mission. “There has been a great deal of theoretical work predicting that clustered habitats will tend to support greater species richness than isolated or fragmented habitat, but field studies that show real examples of this are less common. This study provides support that, in fact, habitat clustering does increase the richness of animal communities. It’s particularly important for forest amphibians because they must adapt to two different worlds: an aquatic environment as larvae, a terrestrial forest environment as adults. Knowing that clustering supports more species of amphibians can help conservation managers to target areas that can support more amphibian species. For Au Sable, making contributions in conservation research that can be accessed by scientists worldwide is an important part of our service and mission in creation care, and critical to the Institute’s credibility in forming new partnerships and coalitions to conduct our current and future studies.”

Faculty member Rachel Lamb, now Flagship Fellow at the University of Maryland, added "Through the practice of perseverance and a genuine commitment to producing sound and management-relevant science, our team was able to publish our findings and make this information readily accessible to a variety of audiences… I imagine that many of the former students who worked on this project view this work as a foundational learning experience that has continued to shape their research endeavors. For example, as my first peer-reviewed article, this work helped me better understand the peer-review process and the importance of never giving up on improving, and in some cases defending, the communication of your ideas.” As a consulting scientist with particular expertise in statistical analysis, Seth Harju explained, "Being a steward of natural resources often involves choices about conservation - where can we have the biggest positive impact? Here, we found that clustered pools supported more amphibian biodiversity and higher amphibian abundance than isolated pools. These results provide clear and concise guidance for management of amphibian habitat. And, by sharing these results in a high-visibility outlet like Ecosphere, we were able to reach a large audience of people who will leverage these findings to improve conservation outcomes. It was a pleasure to work alongside the Au Sable team as part of a group dedicated to high-quality science with tangible and beneficial conservation outcomes."

Au Sable’s current research efforts include investigations of the effects of sound on songbird community composition, the comparative reproductive success of the endangered Kirtland’s warbler in jack pine and red pine stands, the development of habitat suitability indices to choose the best sites for reintroduction of the Arctic grayling in Michigan, and the determination of best practices for reforestation of abandoned oil pads. We hope and plan to have the results of these studies in press soon as well, the better to contribute to conservation worldwide, help other scientists engaged in creation care, and advance Au Sable’s own mission to serve, protect, and restore God’s earth.



Photo Sources:

Jim Harding,4570,7-153-10370_12145_12201-61173--,00.html,4570,7-153-10370_12145_12201-59138--,00.html